Friday, September 22, 2006

9.22.06, Return to the Sopranos

I've arrived safe and sound, back on the East coast for a few days, for Coltrane's 80th birthday, time in the city, and to see if I can't find a disenchanted princess in the woods of Long Island. All the travel today went off very smoothly, not extra liquids or questionables in my carry on. The Port-o-Cath did not set off any alarms. (It has only done that at one airport, actually, where was it? JFK...from Seattle once? Can't recall.) Today was safe.

Reporting a Franky Scale on a travel day is pretty strange, it was quite high during my naps on the plane, dipped at other times, but really things have been pretty good today, especially for day one after IV chemo. Before the cancer life began I would rarely if ever sleep on planes, just couldn't do it. Now, I get on the plane and the engines are like a lullaby. The plane moves and I'm out. Today, too, same deal. OK, enough travel agent talk. Time to rest up for Joe Lovano tomorrow.

[P.S.] And after catching up on some of the season six Sopranos, I just have to say there is some strange directing going on, around episodes 5-7 or so. I'm partially on the edge of my seat, partially just going "That's it?" More to come.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

9.21.06, To Depart

IV chemo today, a joy as always, but thanks to Mme X for company. Franky Scale maybe 6ish, the usual fatigue and the trivial works. Then I'm getting myself ready for tomorrow's trip. Since I'll be gone for a few days I'm not sure how much blogging I'll be able to do, but surely there will be something to write about once I return. This is the first travelling I'm doing in the middle of chemo treatments, which might make things interesting, and I plan to take it slow as much as possible. If there are any newsworthy events I'll be sure to post. And if you don't hear, assume the Franky Scale stays in the 6 or 7 range.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

9.20.06, Something like 21 Grams

Is there something that I’m learning? Yesterday’s “Anonymous” (to yesterday’s post) commenter pointed out that I’m doing something along the lines of passing along information, teaching as it were, perhaps from my unconscious somewhere. Teaching without even knowing it. Something about “how to live,” that’s what is was. The without knowing it part I agree with. I was excited to see there might be a “life lesson” in there somewhere, so I had to have to go back to the last post and search it out. I write the blog and now I find myself in reader’s shoes. The ignorant preacher — if there were to be a preacher anywhere, he or she must be ignorant. Or else how could it work? There is no other way.

I’ve been watching 21 Grams this evening, without any foreknowledge, no idea of plot or theme, the stench of death all over the film somewhat of a kick to the head. One’s gone, one’s gone. To watch this film and think “Me. It’s me in a number of weeks or months. Part of it is me.” Except the cigarette jones. Who knows. It’s all allegory, but then like I was suggesting in the post on “Where Truth is to be Found” that’s the truest way to tell a real story. Truth in fiction being the only kind we can rely on. Truth in poetry. And then again . . . it breaks down at some point.

So I’m trying to figure out what it is that’s being taught here, by accident, from this other side of my personality that writes in the blog. Reader’s shoes. Where is the truth there? What are the stories being told? More scattered thinking from the blogging me.

And today, how has it gone? Harsh, actually. After feeling good for a few days, and mildly living with the background fear that it’ll be jinxed, today I woke up in a very different physical state. Not feeling so good. —how to explain this without seeming pitiful, without appearing pitiful, without being unduly, something, about it. What would be the word. Too much of something that will kill the writing. So the day begins on the low side, and then where does it go from there?

Eventually today I started feeling angry about it — there is it. Anger, that natural emotion we are supposed to feel in the process of it all, what is supposed to help get us out of the funk. Me and my natural funk. To be expected, right. It’s in all the books, after all. But the extra pain eventually just became so tedious, today anyway, what was I going to do about it? I took extra pain meds to try and get a handle on it. Think of those raised eyebrows. Eventually it cut down to a more reasonable level, to get me off the bed, off my side, from waiting for something better. Get back into a manageable level of life, then go from there. Just one step forward.

What was curious is how the pain meds cut down the pain to a certain degree, not to the point of elimination, but rather to a heightened sense of where I was, where I am. And this is what got me pissed off. They cut the pain just enough for anger to take hold. I started off just angry about being in pain, about it, the pain, about it not being obedient. It doesn’t listen to me. It’s obdurate. And then the sense spread to larger issues that touch this entire experience. To what I’m doing every day, to facing the same challenges daily. I suppose even the questions that have been slinking around the shadows — the nasty ones without answers like “Why has this happened?” and “How is this supposed to play out?” I’ve known from the start, intellectually at least, that there is no point to it, that these are dead end issues. There is no water in that well. So why even lower the bucket?

I don’t intend to rant. Another well with no water. But I did just want to put out the questions, to say what it is that’s happening, and not to garnish it so that it looks more appealing. Today wasn’t even that much worse than a lot of days, it’s just another one in the deranged series I’ve been assigned. Perhaps the anger is good for me, perhaps it’s another source of strength, perhaps there are, forgive the triteness, lessons to be learned in this too. Shit. It’s all fucked up beyond expression, from the perspective of my little world at least. So here it is, raw blogging, saying the things that might cause concern, saying what’s really going on despite how personal it is, despite what it means to walk through life in this strange state of plurality. The me who wakes up in a singular state of physicality each morning, the different mes who blog and pick what to share, the me who needs to stand up as straight as possible, who walks to the store, the disconnected mes and the mes who are inextricably tied.

I don’t know.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

9.19.06, Epistrophy

I thought I'd call it "epiphany" but that seemed too pedestrian on the one hand and just too much on the other. It might not even be a legit revelatory moment into the bargain. Something about "epistrophy," the sound and sight of it, which apart from a Monk which is all I know of it, seems to fit. For the past few days I've felt generally solid, or even good . . . though some superstitious hidden part of my unsuperstitious self tells me to watch such words for jinxing . . . but feeling good. No real problems, some moments of real clarity where I almost forget, or actually do forget for just so long. A great thing — yet it emphasizes upon my mental return that question Frank asked once, so long ago it seems, about how long it takes me every morning before The Thought arrives. But, generally good, that's my point.

So here's the story. It's not a continuation of the talk about truth content (last two days) because this is something that's crept up on me today until it feels like it needs to come out. I've been catching myself having thoughts about "what it's all about" again, about the "big picture," and all the related annoying and existentially servile little questions that accompany one who spends too much time thinking of how it all should make sense. As in, "what's the meaning of life?", for example, would be the most common example; and existential angst would be the most familiar descriptor. It's as if I've found myself in a mental state that I spent altogether too much time in prior to diagnosis and Life Change and all that.

The twist, after a couple of days of such thinking, is this: if thoughts about "what it's all about" are creeping back into my brain, even after all the big realizations of Dumb Fate and Death and Nowness seemed to have set, then wouldn't that possibly be a sign of getting better? If I were to forget some of what I've been learning recently, if I were to slip into my "old ways" (yes, self-consciously deprecating or imprecating there), then maybe that's a sign I'm going in reverse physiologically too . . . ? Crazy, right? A reverse in my thinking habits means a reverse in my physical condition. Probably so.

The logic of it, however, seemed appealing to me at the time. (Does the logic even make any sense to anybody else, or is this just me here in my imaginary closet thinking too loudly?) A turn for the better is all I'm hoping for here, and this is just a potential mental framework to explain it without miracles. The premonition of good fortune without miracles. Or did I secretly, or rather, unconsciously, figure it out before and then start to feel the good-old angst again? Hmm. I ought to simply be glad there have been a few days where the pain is less and most of my body seems to be cooperating. That's all. And I'm about to head to New York for a quick trip in three days, so feeling good and resting up are what the doctor ordered. Good company, good food, good music, and pray no fatigue.

Curious that word-notion, "prayer." It seems to be happening all around me, though in forms that would surprise many who think they've got the low down on prayer. I see it take myriad forms, different incarnations and different practices, dissimilar executions. I'm glad for all of it, from whatever corner.

The Franky Scale then? You know "before" I was sick, or before it got this bad, I never or rarely had days I would say were much over a "7" or maybe "8" so I'm still wary about using the big numbers. But I'll say a solid seven/7, a 7 with plus. Now if sleep will be kind enough to not elude me, the day will close well.

Monday, September 18, 2006

9.18.06, A Brief Pause in Truth

On the Franky Scale today I probably logged a 6, feeling a moment or two behind myself all day long. There were a few moments, too, when I imagined feeling nauseated — and there is no reason for nausea right now unless it's purely psychosomatic and stems from the fact that chemo starts up again this Thursday. Anticipatory nausea. It's very odd to have the feeling and then almost simultaneously realize what it's about, that my mind produced it so perhaps my mind can eliminate it, and so on. And so I tried working that through. Too early to feel sick, ruins the good days. Otherwise there's little going on physically.

I did decide to try and step up my NCPB procedure, into the last few days of September, but no word yet. Ideally I'll be able to do it on the 27th or 29th, but it looks like I won't know until the scheduler returns tomorrow. It's such a low-risk procedure that I don't feel nervous about any danger. Still it gives me butterflies in anticipation when I wonder about its potential for success. It could be such a boon to have a significant portion of my pain just zipped away, so I quietly go around with my fingers crossed.

As for finishing yesterday's absolutely fascinating post, I'm going to take a cheap way out and only put up one additional paragraph. What follows after that still needs work, especially to be able to explain the notion of the "truth content" of a work of art — as with so many complex ideas, being able to convey it in the simplest possible form is incrdibly demanding. It's an idea I've learned and had kicking around in my head for ten years probably and yet I don't think I've ever really tried to put into very simple terms. Looking at the blank page and knowing that my simple explanation needs to be put down is proving daunting. Thus the fragmented bits and pieces approach to this whole thing. Think of it as a deep thought for the day, just one paragraph so thrilling it might well help you doze off tonight if you see it. With that, it's pasted in below. Till tomorrow.

* * *

Negative aesthetics, then, is the workings and the study of it all not from the point of positivist assertion but from negative critique. Alluded to yesterday. Simply put, the “negative” here is not bad, harmful, or unproductive in the slightest; it’s salutary, good for thinking, open-ended, creative, and tends toward the greatest degree of transparency possible. It’s a type of demystification in the arts, or demythologizing as Weber or Durkheim put talking about Modernity. We progressively shatter the myths and direct claims to truth. The point is not to study and learn “what is beautiful” according to the model of traditional aesthetics, rather it is to understand why a given artwork succeeds or doesn’t, how much truth content it has, and to do that we have to ask questions about historical context, political motivation (qui bono?), economic weight, and ethical value. Most theorists of aesthetics — take Kant as prime example — say that all this is unrelated to beauty, to the sublime, and therefore it must all be ignored and cut out. We're supposed to read a poem or look at a painting in some state of perfect remove, devoid of any personal interest, truly not caring, not being concerned with anything that could be at stake. As a remedy, negative aesthetics works to read all works of art while at the same time remembering how we view the world through a camera obscura. It’s all upside down, inverted, skewed, Alice-and-looking-glass-ed. A methodology, if you will, for getting at the truth content of a work of art.

[again, to be continued]

Sunday, September 17, 2006

9.17.06, Where Truth is Found, as Promised

OK, this post has been sticking in my brain for months it seems. Part of it just resist being polished and finished and presented publicly. God damn sometimes. Since yesterday I began to explore the Idea of the Negative, or the method worldview approach mode multi-perspective . . . whatever it precisely is, and since I promised to follow up. Here it is. But, about half only. Below I'm pasting in the first half of what I'd written sometime ago about negativity and truth in relation to The Sopranos, and for various reasons it ceased being timely. One big reason was that I re-watched all the previous Sopranos seasons and lacked example material. :-) Soon I will have access to tapes of season six — doesn't that sound illicit? actual old-school "tapes"? I do need to finish up the post, get the final paragraphs straight, tie ideas together, or deliberately let them go their own ways, it's just that now it's being unruly. What's below then is about half, a "to be continued."

Franky Scale today was in the 7 area with my physical condition really seeming decent, psychology a big behind that, and then my sleep was hideously disfigured yesterday and today so that threw me off slightly.

Thanks too, especially, for the comments to yesterday's blog. Even a few months of blogging hasn't given me much insight into what people will respond to. I thought is so strange that yesterday's post seem just off kilter to me, like I was really missing something, but there was a good deal of response on and off blog. Hm.

* * *

“Where Truth is Found: Negative Aesthetics and The Sopranos

To continue our investigation into the negative, I want to move it into an example a decent number of people will know about; if this is totally foreign to you, think of a personal film substitute. The Sopranos can be swapped out for any other well-made drama, anything made of fiction, a solid work of poetry. I say this because at times people wonder “What is up with all the Sopranos allusions in this blog?” Any cultural production, any artwork, that has a certain degree of truth content, an idea we’ll get into below, works well enough to illustrate the point.

The argument or thesis: The only real truth, the only “thing that is” or “phenomenon that is” and accurately reflects the world is what is expressed indirectly, obtusely, obscurely through allusion, which is all to say, negatively. Once you try to express a thing directly . . . poof. This is what Lacan means in psychoanalytic terms when he defines the Real (big R) as “that which cannot be symbolized.” Yet the Real is something we experience every day, every where, in every aspect of our lives; it is like the air we breath. We just can't symbolize it or express it in any way. And that is a slightly different story.

Let’s put it another way. Somewhere Picasso said “Art is the lie that makes us realize the truth.” That’s the crux of it. That is how poetry works, evocative painting, successful film, that is why fictionalized memoirs — which is simply another term for all memoirs really — are more engaging than those that hold vigorously to the straight “facts.” (I suppose the James Frey “memoir”-Oprah incident and the question of [non]facticity provides a timely example for us.) Not all art is true in this sense however it is only through the negative of expression, the indirect, the creative admixture produced by the human mind, that we find anything that really is, that is accurate, that feels universal.

As mentioned yesterday, science, being in a sense the summa of positivism, might be invoked as a counter argument (now here I’m talking about science as in “hard science” or the physical sciences) — “How can you dispute gravity or a rocket to the moon?” And yet this proves the point by failing to hold true forever. A more accurate theory, method, or technique will always be found, to challenge it, modify it, replace it. Newton to Einstein to quantum physics. Art, on the other hand, does live eternally, it only needs continual transmission and translation. The translation of a work becomes its immortality (a borrowed line). Science’s job is to fail repeatedly; good art continually pretends to fail but never really does.

A poem, a novel, a film — these forms tell you up front “I am a lie. I claim no truth value. I am imaginary,” and then they proceed to haunt us with the accuracy of their expression. So The Sopranos portrays the most dysfunctional and unrealistic of families: it’s only HBO, it’s entertainment, even the mob exists this is all make-believe. Still we find mother-son or brother-sister relationships we can identify with; we find expressions of anger that call up something within us; there are familiar lusts and passions; and the morals of the stories often make us nod in agreement — or shake our heads in denial. Both reactions, however, represent the same deep identification / recognition. It starts out with “I’m a lie” and in the end we’re disconcerted and have to keep trying to remind ourselves, “Right, this is a lie. It’s not true. That would never happen.” Why do we do that?

[to be continued]